DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Five

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It had taken weeks but the salt taste of Bond has finally gone, in its place smell of smoke, and however often Ronni plunges into the freezing river, it will not leave. It should have been an easy task not to rack up fatalities but the young man had been simply a bystander, and paid the price. Half a dozen lives saved against one lost would be a good tally on any day, but not this one. Her involvement had begun a chain of events that had ended with a death that could have avoided and would hunt her down for penance. Now there is nausea, anger and displacement and all 004 wants is to run.

Except in the middle of a mission, nowhere is safe to hide.

‘Veronica?’

She’s facing away, cold in her own warm double bed, trying not to show the hurt. His comment had been flippant, typical Bond off the cuff wry irony, but it had stung. She did care too much, about so many things, but that was just the way she was made. Normally this would be dismissed but something had changed between the two of them, and without an understanding of what, there is sudden reticence to simply let the remark pass.

‘You know I was joking?’

His voice tickles in her ear, naked chest pressed to her back, erection brushing arse in a way that would normally distract but is now annoyance, and anger smoulders. Instead of pushing himself Bond then moves, up and across, to squat by the side of the bed, attempting to make eye contact.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I told you. I had a nightmare.’

‘I know. Tell me what about.’

‘What do you do when you can’t save someone?’

‘So, yesterday still is a problem.’

He’d read her field reports from Cairo, of course, could look at any of the many files without need for clearance, because technically they’d kept him superior. Having returned after his first mission proper for the new M, he’d appeared like the genie he was at the back of the Hall when Ronni had stood down, having given testimony to the Coroner as the official Inquest opened. He’d sat through three hours of evidence, listened to the story of the flashpoint, SAS officers attacked whilst escorting a convoy of aid workers to the south of the city. It hadn’t even been in her brief, she’d just literally been passing, but the effects of the moment still resonated within. At the top of that list was the Red Cross worker from Berlin, who’d protected his female colleague and taken a bullet to the chest that had killed him at the scene.

That’s why she’s uncomfortable, waking from troubled sleep to find him watching. Bond’s immediate desire to fulfil his own needs ahead of assuaging her discomfort had rankled, and now intimacy was last thing on anybody’s minds.

‘Remind me of his name, please, because I’ll be honest I didn’t pay total attention yesterday.’

‘Dieter. He was 28. His mother worked at the Attaché’s office in Berlin. I’d met her, on an Acquisitions mission last year. She’d bought me lunch and was generally lovely.’

‘Did you make sure he was comfortable at the scene?’

‘I held him when he asked me to, and he died in my arms.’

‘I also assume you talked to his mother at length?’

‘Plus his father, who’s now living in Michigan. He also has a sister in Paris. They’re a really adventurous family.’

‘Everybody knew he was a hero?’

‘Without question.’

‘Then that’s all you can do. Remember them, make sure everyone knows they were amazing and move on. For the record, you taught me the value of appropriate mourning. I’d never really grasped the significance.’

‘Is that the truth?’

‘I carried Vesper with me for years, refused to let her go. I didn’t think I’d ever feel that way with anyone again. You made me understand the truth that death is an inevitable part of the job you simply can’t remove from the equation. So, there’s a choice: embrace it or become less of a person. I like what I’ve become, appreciate the change you’ve wrought within me. Whatever else might happen, I’ll always be grateful for that. Always.

Sitting on the bank of the river, Ronni and Q have far outstayed their welcome. They should have left days ago but her partner had taken longer to recover from the shock at the hospital than anticipated. Now he’s ready the camp is packed: it is time to move far away and quickly, but there is one task left to complete. Because it matters that people understand the truth, wherever you travel, Ronni will go back to town one last time.

An hour later 004 watches the small cortège in the graveyard, Italian family bound in grief over their son. A middle aged man stands, away from the mourners, recognising her without question. He’d been there at the Hospital, looking for his daughter, and they’d briefly exchanged small talk. Ronni didn’t even know these people’s names, there hadn’t been time in the chaos, and shouldn’t be here now but something makes her move towards him, approach a face etched with relief that it’s not his child being buried.

[*]

Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘Sei tu che hai salvato mia figlia, non è così?’

‘Sì, volevo sapere come sta.’

‘Dovrebbero poterla dimettere tra qualche giorno. Ma perché sei tornato?’

‘Perché non ho potuto salvare tutti… e dovevo portare l’ultimo saluto a chi non c’è più.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘So chi sono quelli che ti inseguono dopo il Museo, non dovresti fermarti.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. Questo è più importante. Per favore, portalo alla famiglia, digli che loro figlio era un eroe e mi ha salvato la vita e questo non lo potrò mai, mai dimenticare.’

‘Certamente, lo farò. E non scorderemo mai la tua generosità. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.


[*] For those of you not fluent, there’s a translation here as follows:

Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘You were the one who saved my daughter, weren’t you?’

‘Yes, I wanted to know how she is.’

‘The doctors think she’ll be well enough to leave hospital in a few days. Why did you come back?’

‘Because I couldn’t save everybody, and I need to show my respects to those who passed.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘I know the men who pursue you after the Museum, you should keep running.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. This matters more. Will you give this please to the family, tell them their son was a hero and that he saved my life, a fact I will never, ever forget.’

‘I will, and your kindness will always be remembered. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.


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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Four

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The hospital is packed, and Q feels particularly exposed inside it, but he dropped everything when it became apparent that circumstance had drifted from their grasp. He’d hotwired a Fiat to get here, leaving car unobtrusively hidden around a corner, grateful the owner left driving gloves on their passenger seat. There’ll be no fingerprints to tie him to the theft, hopefully a distinct lack of hairs or fibres either: even under considerable duress, training always kicks in. He is nothing but thorough, especially under pressure. Looking for a sign of her in the cramped Emergency area, finally a flash of curtain exposes auburn ponytail: sneaking into the small treatment booth Ronni sits dishevelled, considerably dirtier than she was when they’d parted company two hours previously.

He hugs probably a little too hard but her response is to pull closer, shaking quietly into shoulder, as instinctively hand moves to head. The curtain shifts suddenly, young female Doctor returning from retrieving tests, clipboard and paperwork in hand. As his Italian is shocking there’s a moment of panic, until it transpires Q’s concern is unnecessary: English is the preferred first language regardless, and his presence in the space is anything but a surprise.

You were right, there is nothing wrong with you. If you are fast you can leave before the AISI arrive.

Their sanctity and the curtain are both quickly redrawn as the woman vanishes: Q steps back and tries to assess Ronni’s stability, watching as she wipes tears from a blackened face. The smell of woodsmoke is all-pervading, so strong it makes him nauseous. Exposition is required, and quickly.

‘What did you tell her?’

‘The absolute truth, like the briefing documents suggest when you’re out of options: at some point all you’ll have is total honesty and the hope the person you’re speaking to believes your story. I simply admitted if I’m compromised both you and I are dead, and was just at the Museum to help. It appears she believed me.’

‘It’s amazing how often the truth works. That doesn’t detract from the issue however: after I lost video and audio there was understandably panic as to your well being. We may have saved the violins, but what of our assailants?’

‘I finally stopped them from reaching the main exhibit, and thought I’d neutralised everybody -‘

‘Except we both missed the man on the balcony. That wasn’t just you, Ronni, I can take the blame for not covering all the exits. It was him who started the fire in the annex?’

‘Completely by accident. By the time he was unconscious the whole restaurant complex was in flames. It was only when I saw the girl on the first floor I realised there was a problem. I couldn’t leave them, I know I should have but -‘

‘No, it’s fine, I completely understand. You were incredibly brave for going up there.’

‘Or stupid, or both. I don’t know, but at least one of the people I helped get out hasn’t recovered consciousness. Did the fire service contain it?’

‘Yes, that I can confirm, long before it reached the main building. I suspect -‘

Then nothing else matters except the commotion suddenly behind them, raised voices and then a wail that strikes fear into Q’s heart, all too familiar. He’s back in the Barracks, the day Bond saved the Americans from themselves and brought LaCroix to his attention. He can smell Moneypenny, crumpling to the ground, tears streaming down a distraught face, unable to remain upright at the news her lover had perished. The woman spied between the curtain gap cannot be any older than him, classically beautiful, dark haired and olive skinned in a perfect red dress, on the floor with two female friends in attendance. An older man stands behind, staring past him and directly at Flemmings. Q wants to know, needs to understand what he’s missed, but can’t take eyes away from the woman as she shakes, grief all too apparent.

‘Ronni?’

‘That man’s daughter was the first person I rescued. The boy I pulled out last, who clearly never woke up, was the museum’s junior janitor. That was his girlfriend. We need to leave.’

This wasn’t an act, staged to deceive an audience, but the closest Q had ever been to the effects of his handiwork on the living, breathing world. Stomach lurches, and he’s able to keep it down until the second set of doors and then the meagre dinner he’d eaten is being deposited outside the Hospital’s front entrance. Suddenly a hand is at his back, lifting up and almost carrying him away, into the night as Cremona blurs, disturbing disorientation. Everything becomes dissonance, anxiety as chest hurts, dirt under fingernails as a bank is almost crawled up: branches scratch his skull, sudden pain as he fails to clear a wall.

The next thing recalled with any clarity is at camp, bottle of water in shaking hands. Ronni sits opposite, blackened and charred but very much alive, watching him closely. Q had gone to rescue but had been saved himself, as she had with all the other innocents that could easily have been left to perish, thus preserving their anonymity. Instead, yet again, the humanity of this woman had become boundlessly apparent. Suddenly an awful lot of disparate metrics slip together and make perfect sense in a wider context, and he’s infinitely grateful Veronica is part of the organisation. After a while, even the silence makes sense: she’s waiting for me to speak, to ensure I’m recovering from shock.

‘So, this is how it feels when a stranger dies and you couldn’t save them.’

‘I don’t know why its different out here, maybe its because they are strangers and not people you know. With the casualties at the Barracks that was different, almost less personal, because in that situation there was no opportunity to show weakness. I think maybe when you accept death as part of your job, when it happens the process is almost acceptable. You’ve prepared for it. When an innocent dies, a true victim…’

‘Everything changes. Yes, I suspect Gregory would agree with you. What happens now?’

‘You cope, and we move camp in the morning.’

He’s shaking suddenly, not cold but delayed shock, and Ronni comes to wrap herself around him, holding firmly until the trembling stops. She makes him drink the last of the water before frog-marching him to the tent, despite the fact he should be taking first watch. This time, she will guard while he sleeps, because that way he’ll feel safe enough to actually relax and try and forget the trauma.

Q’s very grateful he trained this woman as thoroughly as he did.


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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Three

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This should be coding decryption time, yet instead Q stares at the Internet with quiet satisfaction because every darkweb security site he has flagged just lit up as if it were Christmas. There’d been anticipation of the potential need to hack his own mainframe, but it won’t be necessary, because right now the picture behind BBC News’ Jane Hill is of Bond, which means Whitehall grasped an opportunity to call it a day ahead of schedule. It might not be in writing for a few weeks, but this truly was the end for 007. A very purposefully engineered demise, once and for all, of both man and designation, planned to the split second and dependant on their enemy’s desire to destroy everything MI6 stood for.

The video runs on his screen that will soon be bouncing across the world; the exposed Spectre assassin working in the Prime Minister’s Security detail taking his opportunity: eyes of the world on the West London crematorium, Bond targeted and crumpling to the ground with blood pouring from a chest wound as he gave the eulogy for Flemmings. Alex West had been planning a high profile hit since C’s demise, M his intended target, but had been scuppered by the intervention of an undercover Metropolitan Police officer. Once she was able to influence his decision Spectre itself would believe they’d corrected its leader’s oversight, Bond finally dead so the game could be afoot for 007 one last time.

Without sound or context the images are sterile, painless for Q to watch, but he notes with satisfaction how two male agents defend Bond’s body with guns drawn whilst it is their female equal who clinically eliminates the assailant. All three are plants, of course, SAS officers who remain unapproachably anonymous, but that won’t matter. This sends the world a warning that Spectre’s scope is all encompassing, and everyone needs to step up their vigilance. The only martyr as a result of this soap opera is now in a body bag on the way to Lynam, where Felix waits to accompany him with all speed to Bangkok.

All in all, the entire exercise has been completed flawlessly. Bond’s ‘ashes’ will remain as fictional as his own and Flemmings’ and the three can again effectively vanish from memory. Having never taken voluntary bereavement himself, the time had come to remove yet another life from the frame. It hadn’t been a wrench: his mother’s death the previous year had made the choice that much easier. Effectively orphaned, with no family to come looking, it wasn’t as if he needed to change large portions of his life anyway. The house that was rewarded is a distinct improvement, no mortgage left to worry over. In that regard, this was a massive promotion. All he needed now was to be in London to enjoy it, except a part of his mind would happily stay here forever.

Despite himself, Q had begun to enjoy the field agent existence.

The phone next to him vibrates, and he’s pleased to see that 004’s on her way back, hopefully with something more unhealthy than fruit sugars for dinner.

‘I need you to do a background check on someone for me.’

‘You were only asked to find dessert, 004, not play vigilante again. I thought we’d discussed just letting the world get on with its own business…?’

‘Had you not trained me so well, I would have done so, but this is at least in part your fault so just look up Alberto Rinaldi for me and make your own judgement.’

‘I am thinking there may be a few of those in the Italian phone book, you have a picture?’

The phone’s camera provides context and Q is already searching, smile as it becomes apparent that again letting her use initiative had provided a scalp of some note as reward. It is a testament to his training he knows this person will be trouble, that Ronni will have picked him out immediately due to undoubtedly suspicious behaviour.

‘Well done 004, you have my attention, as this man’s on Spectre’s active agent database. What’s he done to arouse your concern?’

‘Not done, about to do. He’s intending to rob the Museo del Violino with three accomplices this eveing, hold a number of Stradivarius originals to ransom, and effectively blackmail the museum’s founder for about ten million US Dollars. I happened to eavesdrop on their final planning meeting whilst liberating fresh biscotti in a local bakery, which means success on two fronts.’

‘That sounds exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from Blofeld’s people, in every regard. So, how do you intend to stop them?’

‘I was expecting you to tell me to walk away.’

‘On any other day, perhaps, but now I am officially dead as well as Bond and you, I feel oddly liberated. I also love violin music and appreciate the value of preserving the past from rampaging villainy. You know how much I enjoy handling you, 004, so I say we make a date of it.’

His new found confidence is infectious, and Q’s already looking forward to overseeing this mission off the books. This is his forte, and with Ronni to direct, they are a potent combination. Plus even he could do with a break from staring at code.

After all, what was the worst that could happen?


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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Two

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Bond’s letting mind wander, tuxedo jacket off, waiting in the Royal Box for the command that informs the Prince and his wife are in the building.
The ENO is only half full, most patrons still drinking and celebrating the last performance of Giselle in the sequence. Halloween is only a few days away yet James is stuck in the past, message from M in his Skyfall effects as yet unwatched. On leave as of Monday would normally mean focus to 004, but she’s off to Ankara on Sunday in the Diplomatic Bag. If liaison were possible, tonight is the night: Bond is amazed at how much he desires Flemmings in bed, on the sofa or indeed anywhere else in his Pimlico flat. The mere thought of mouth on his causes a frisson of arousal; needing to move, allowing space for body to react. Then the message in his ear is damning: Jester is still at Kensington Palace and hasn’t left. The performance will be delayed 30 minutes.

Putting on the Tom Ford jacket with irritation, Bond heads for Ops: leaving the Box, 004’s instantly smack bang in his eyeline. All he can do is stare, mouth opened in transfixed amazement.

Ronni’s not wearing a gown, which would normally be strictly against protocol. Instead there are black dress trousers, killer heels plus a white shirt that’s barely staying fastened, straining over pronounced breasts that are further accentuated by a plunge bra and the underbust corset. Her holster’s black, different from standard issue, and Bond’s lost, aware that slack-jawed and wide eyed are the least of his embarrassments. As if on cue she turns and looks straight at him, before that most seductive of voices tickles his inner ear.

‘Weren’t you taught that it’s rude to stare?’

‘I’m sorry, I was just admiring the view. Is that corset -‘

‘Kevlar, of course. This is what a male-only Whitehall Committee decided would pass for adequate body protection, which is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. I wanted to prove that everybody had forgotten to factor breasts yet again into the equation. Totally impractical, but incredibly comfortable. In that regard, I might wear this again.’

‘What time do you finish shift, 004?’

‘Long before you have time to work out how this comes off. They bought my flight forward, I’m in the air before the Interval. As it happens I’m off to hand in my token and sign off now, you’ll need to do this on your own.’

His groin is aching, everything far too tight: completely oblivious to situation the tuxedo trousers are being undone, realisation he’s happily about to masturbate with an audience …

The mobile phone’s alarm saves him from himself, insistent tone on the bedside cabinet that he wants to break but instead ignores. 007 lies prone, sheet stuck to a still aching erection, before grasping why this interruption was warranted: today he really has no desire to get up.

This is the morning to pretend, grieving for two of his closest friends.

The fiction won’t be hard to spin, because he misses Ronni with a pain that can never be recalled at any point in his life. This is worse than when his parents or Vesper died, forced to live and breathe a lie that makes him sick with its existence. Given the chance he’d be in the air, on the ground in Italy and hunting Veronica down, dedicated to rescue and protection for as long as was warranted. This inability to do anything to help or support has become an open wound that M finally, blissfully, has allowed him to at least treat if not heal. Today has been planned to the second, more drama than would ever be found at the ENO: performance not just for him, but Spectre too, because his public persona would then be forcibly retired in full view of the World. After the curtain fell, Bond would be on a military transport to to Bangkok where he fully intended to dedicate the rest of his tenure on the books to eliminating Christian Swann and anyone who thought the maniac deserved to be in charge of anything.

If anybody is going to put a bullet in his head, it will be 007.

Before that happens however, there is time to lose body and mind in the shower. Bond’s quietly grateful the monitoring in his flat no longer operates, that of late he’s spent more time washing parts of his body than was ever true before. There isn’t a moment when Veronica’s not in his mind, one form or another, and knowing her sexual appetite is at least equal, if not larger than his? James at least has the luxury of immediate relief, but it ends up never being enough. What worries more however is the realisation that despite all his best efforts, he is again becoming emotionally attached to a woman with whom he works. Each time this happens, without fail, the results are disastrous… except something has changed deep within his psyche that 007 is having trouble grasping. He’s not getting any younger, and as soon as Swann is dead? His tenure in the 00 Section is over. When that comes to pass, the possibility of someone to help him survive moving forward is now being almost positively encouraged by his employers. In a certain light, it is almost as if 004 has been presented to him as means to let go.

He won’t let anyone manipulate Flemmings into anything, and the more that insistence and determination grows, to ensure she’s allowed free rein and the ability to do the job she fought so hard for, the deeper desire for this woman becomes. That feeling however is anything but sexual, vital need to maintain her equality and ensure everyone else did the same. His respect, in the end, outweighed the basic inclination to act to type and nobody in his entire life had ever derailed so successfully. When he’d asked Madeline to marry, it was borne from a desire to protect. If that happened with Veronica it would only be as a means to maintain their joint sanctity, and suddenly an awful lot of other things make sense. If there is a step back from the belief that the world revolves around him?

Standing under freezing water, James Bond willingly embraces the epiphany.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-One

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Watching the sun rise has become her daily routine, as Ronni waits for a bite on the field-built fishing line. This is absolutely the best time to be working the river, highlighting just how beautiful surroundings are to be lost in, especially in the quiet calm before dawn. On cue, water ripples and there’s carp being harvested, grateful supplement to the hare snared overnight. This means protein in their diets as well as fruit and vegetables quietly liberated from various spots, and no real concern of hunger for another few days. By her own admission 004 is not the greatest of cooks, but Q’s been quietly offering pointers without making criticism appear too overt. He’ll be awake already and working, leaving her trying to keep busy in his efficient, unstoppable wake. Adopting role of protector while he decrypts Beam’s files, providing an ear to his frustrations, whilst keeping occupied with exercise and drills is what 004 does best, and with Northern Italy as their backdrop, this could almost be a summer vacation, were their circumstances not so obviously extreme.

Time has become oddly fluid, without normal routine as distraction the nature of existence stretches and alters unimpeded. In reality, this morning marks ten days since they died, which means today is important: a coffin will be cremated later and her ashes handed to Bond, now named as her executor by mutual consent. Thinking whilst cleaning fish at the river’s edge, cutting still warm flesh, Ronni knows how deeply he’ll hate both ceremony and attention, much prefering to lose himself in mission work. It’s best too he’s at a distance: 007 remains an internal observer, reassurance from afar. That removal is helpful, on reflection: no emotion to distract, allowing her to be vulnerable alone when required.

However much she rationalises however, a part of this equation is flawed. The Barracks taunt her, sitting shaking on a bathroom floor, not incapable of her mission but instead disabled by desire. Reminded of how she’d been initially unable to grasp how Bond was capable of reducing Moneypenny and Madeline to mush, the understanding is now all too apparent. For them he had no need to do anything except be what he was: the women ended up succumbing to a particularly brutal combination of charm, personality and physical fitness. Except for Ronni, charm and personality were irrelevant, because she knew what lay beneath. Vulnerability plus brutal honesty combined as the most potent of mirrors to herself, then the sex had finally scuppered everything, including her resolve. There’d never been such a strong pull to anyone like this in her life, arousing each other to a point where they’d spontaneously combust, and it wasn’t enough.

Distance doesn’t dampen that issue either, simply serving to make things worse. This morning she’d let the river’s coldness strip desire from a grateful body, but without something sizeable as distraction it would only be a matter of time before the inevitable attempted to derail, again. Walking back to their camp, Ronni hopes that Q might have something she can do that will allow a focus back to reality. They’d been forced to shift two days ago, when spotted by a couple walking a dog: Q thought Ronni overreacted, but with total anonymity as their aim? Absolutely not. Their home, such as it was, is built down a bank, by a coppice, and with camouflage remains virtually undetectable. It’s a good piece of work, Ronni proud of the skills learnt finally having a practical application in the real world.

Given a choice between hotel bed and campbed roll, of course luxury would win, but for now this is acceptable. As she heads back a fire is already burning for cookery and Q’s dressing after his wash in the tributary that runs along the sharp drop to the south. Still naked, Ronni wonders if she should concern herself with privacy: if positions were reversed he’d wait and had on previous days, and this is what should be adopted as benchmark. Instead of Bond, she thinks of Eve, ans whether LaCroix ever talked to her about their relationship in theatre…

‘Good morning Ronni.’

Q stands dressed and 004 understands she’s not as awake as is needed, and that’s a problem to solve as priority.

‘Did you sleep well?’

‘You were right, a run before bed is becoming very helpful in wearing out body as well as mind. I made excellent progress on decryption yesterday, there’s real meat to package and dispatch to Washington once our satellite arrives. I think today you could do with finding something to occupy apart from pretending to babysit me.’

‘It’s okay, I’m not thinking about the funeral.’

‘No, but having been passed fit for active duty today’s very public events will be an inconvenience Bond won’t want. Yesterday evening there was an assassination of a high-ranking UN official in Bangkok that has Christian Swann’s fingerprints all over it. 007 will desire to be back in theatre as soon as is humanly possible.’

‘Are there any issues I should know about?’

‘Apart from the fact he’s lying through his teeth to everyone except the 00 section? I hear that’s being done with more style and determination than at any point in his career.’

‘I remember how I felt when I thought he’d died in Alaska. Don’t want that ever again if I can help it… and hang on, aren’t you supposed to be incommunicado with London generally?’

‘You will be amazed how much one can learn by electronic eavesdropping, Flemmings. This is also a good exercise to expose which areas of our system can be routinely hacked by a professional. You know, should one be stuck in the arse end of nowhere waiting for tasks to process. Go explore Cremona, liberate something sweet for dinner. I’m sure you can charm something from someone with your conversational Italian.’

‘You know I shouldn’t leave you unattended for too long.’

‘I don’t need protection but you could use distraction. Go do something useful after breakfast and don’t be here. If I’m in any way threatened, I’ll contact you, but having done such a good job of killing us both, Spectre have bigger fish to fry, as indeed do I by the looks of your catch. I think there’s some rice left, we can pretend its kedgeree for breakfast.’

Ronni’s amazed at Q’s continued resilience, and won’t argue if he wants to play mother with the catering. He’s a better cook anyway, managing to adapt to their routine with ease. He’s also read her mood without the need for a prompt: it is her who is beginning to struggle with their rules and restrictions presented by circumstance.

Something meaty as distraction would help everyone in the long run.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty

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Bond’s sober, conscious and instantly nauseous; sudden need to vomit whilst disorientated in the darkness, until there’s a hand gently holding head, medical container under mouth. He doesn’t remember the last time there was food yet the bowl is full, blood and dirt obvious amongst the yellow liquid. Too many seconds pass before the woman next to him stops being a stranger, smell and touch suddenly familiar…

‘Moneypenny!’

‘Oh, James…’

His compatriot is dirty, soot on face and arms, cut to dark forehead as disbelief morphs into recognition. He’d expected to wake up at Como but this undoubtedly Lynam, Secret Service medical unit that sits out of sight of the world. For a second he cannot grasp why 003 would look like this, until memory finally provides context. Eve’s returned from her first field mission: the guy taking your vomit away while she hugs you is 009.

‘Bond.’

‘Charlie.’

He doesn’t like his surname used, Bond recalls, doing his best to show more awareness than might be expected. Their first meeting was almost yesterday, crossing paths on the tarmac outside this place as he flew to Alaska, LaCroix on the way for debriefing at the Barracks. Coalescing awareness registers dressings on face and hands, dull pain in the left lower back he knows is a historical injury and not new. Without any idea of time frames and contexts there’s uncertainy as to how this game’s being played, and so keeping quiet is probably wise. However, there are no tears, only grim determination in Eve’s features. When Charlie returns, Bond decides to hand his colleagues the initiative.

‘What did I miss?’

The pair exchange an uncertain glance, LaCroix who speaks first.

‘Doctor was very clear, we can’t tell you anything, has to be recalled by yourself, because there’s a concussion, probably several. That’s gonna cause a problem, I suspect, because you’re hoping we tell you what we know first.’

‘Excellent idea: why don’t you tell me what I should know.’

‘Charlie and I shut down an entire Spectre operation in northern Holland with minimal casualties, nearly sixty people have been detained as a result. Local law enforcement were struggling to cope when we left.’

Moneypenny’s pride is obvious, Bond grinning at the woman who finally stopped caring what people said, just as had been the case with the agent who’d inspired them all. Veronica. Her mouth’s on his, salt tears falling onto disbelieving features, gentle pressure of lips to a grateful forehead. She’d used his joke about just passing, finally bettered his abdominals, abundantly apparent under that dress, plastered to a perfect body as everything comes back to him in a rush. Having sacrificed himself to Maddy, refusing to continue their intimacy, James knew there’d been a chance he’d become nothing more than a condemned man. However, as the end rose up to swallow him, 004 had materialised as ultimate redemption.

Bond detaches from reality, simply nodding along to an animated recount of the Dutch attack, factory running as a front for drug distribution plus people trafficking. Letting their revelations exist alongside undoubtedly joint joy at this completed mission, Bond is impressed that Q got the metrics on both utterly spot on. There’s already respect from Charlie as Eve tells her side of the tale, clear admiration and joy in the young woman’s face when narrative switches to LaCroix. James grasps enough about body language to place desire existing between them both, but this is early days, and maybe the rest of humanity doesn’t work on the same motivation that he does.

‘This is clearly a fantastic job from you both. However, it still doesn’t explain what happened to me.’

‘Perhaps you should just ask the question and see where that gets you.’

M, it appears, has been sitting in the room the entire time but Bond never registered, realising that his eyesight’s not exactly as brilliant as first thought. The revelation’s a surprise, staring at the large dark blurred space where sound came from before hazarding a response.

‘Where’s 004 right now?’

There is no flicker of response from anyone in the room, before M stands, conveniently moving into Bond’s focus.

‘003 was correct, we can’t provide you with that answer. You need to do it for yourself. The truth please, 007.’

‘Once she’d rescued me, I was left with her smart watch, and shortly afterwards was sent a codeword. She and Q are dead.’

‘Indeed they are, both were incinerated in the explosion that destroyed the building in Venice we now know was Spectre’s Northern Italian HQ.’

M stares, no emotion on grim features. Moneypenny is a mask, Charlie impassive, and Bond loves that British Intelligence does everything by the book. Each person in this room grasps full well that he just lied through his teeth, will play the conviction of truth with a skill they’ve all been trained for. In any situation where communication could be compromised, codewords will be used to reinforce intent. When a 00 agent goes dark, all others on the roster are on a need to know basis, which will be defined by the current senior officer.

‘I am very sorry to report that your fiancée is also dead, and we’re now pursuing leads to locate Christian Swann, who was responsible for her demise. Any help you can give with this would be greatly appreciated, 007. However, for now you need to rest, and the medical team allowed to complete their work. La Croix and Moneypenny, we need to commence your debriefing. Until later, Bond. We’ll allow appropriate space to grieve this terrible double loss.’

As soon as they’re gone, 007 drags his complaining body out of bed, testing levels of fitness. There is undoubtedly disorientation and nausea, but still ability to make the bathroom with IV in tow to deposit the last stomach contents in the en suite’s sink. Looking critically in the bathroom mirror, face is a mess, far more than he ever remembers at any point in the tenure. Everything will heal if he allows, but there simply isn’t time. There’d been a point where rest would have been appreciated but now? There is a game to be played that holds far greater significance, and that’s already making him irritable. Grieving for absence will be easy: he’ll just be more angry than usual and use his frustration at being unable to rescue Ronni as fuel for the journey.

Maddy’s death however, prompts a fury that is surprising. The woman did nothing to deserve the abuse and manipulation levelled from her half brother, becoming unwitting pawn in both father’s and sibling’s game. This loss therefore could not be allowed to be forgotten without some form of organised and decisive retaliation. Her death would be mourned, then dissected at length with Gregory, so that Bond could categorically assure himself to never allow the same set of circumstances to consume existence ever again. After that’s done, 007 needs to be out of Hospital and back into theatre as soon as humanly possible.

As it transpires, he’s still not done with the designation.


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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Nine

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FIVE


The first time both fugitives stop is just before dawn.

They’ve said nothing since leaving Venice; simply walked, keeping away from civilisation whenever possible. Q hasn’t complained about the rucksack carried, but slowing in his pace tells Ronni rest would be appreciated, plus perhaps some sleep. She’s found an abandoned building far enough away from the beaten track for them to have some respite, but ideally they need to be further away from the centre of their handiwork before there is time to truly relax. Spectre’s regional HQ was stripped of everything valuable, before they’d destroyed it to send a message: we will die for our ideal, without a thought. Bond’s salt blood intoxication remains all that Ronni can taste; memory must be buried deeper than a sleep-deprived brain is capable.

She stands at the front of the house alone, guarding Q as he relieves himself, conscious of only one clip of ammunition for the SIG which might not be enough, when it becomes apparent she’s being stared at. This is not the place to talk, and so the man is ushered inside, conscious of anywhere that might be seen with a long lens or via satellite. Only then is rucksack removed, slump of shoulders telling 004 all that is needed. The Quartermaster is exhausted, food and fluids required before any attempt is made to travel further: if his level of dudgeon is any indicator, there’ll also need to be some verbal reassurance mixed in.

‘Honestly, Veronica, I will just require a moment.’

‘You can take all the time you need, it is absolutely fine.’

‘All I can smell is burnt electrical wiring, I assume that passes in time?’

‘Could be worse, there are far less pleasant things to fixate on.’

‘Would you like me to boot up the laptop and see how Bond is -‘

‘It’s better I don’t know. In fact, it’s sensible just to keep moving, but I know how tired you are. As far away from prying eyes as possible while the world still sleeps. Then when it’s awake? We can rest.’

‘I did write this briefing document, remember. Never thought I’d actually have to follow it.’

She hands over a banana which Q eats, bottle of water afterwards that is quickly finished. They move to sit on a solid wooden table, surrounded by decay and damp, still shell shocked at their sudden change of situation. Ronni has already died once: the numbness will, she knows, pass in time. Suddenly this young man is the unknown quantity, both in mental and physical fitness: conscious of circumstance they need to be moving, and before it becomes an issue he’s shifted back to standing.

‘I am also aware of my status as your liability.’

‘There are many words I would use to describe you Q, but liability will never be one of them. Brilliant, strong, determined and focussed are better, and I’ll use them instead. You came all this way knowing full well what the consequences could be. Lesser mortals would have run. I have your back, because I know just how important you are. Not to Country or mission, but to me.’

The man blinks, briefly embarrassed at the regard. In the Barracks he was in charge but this is Ronni’s world, a fact that won’t need reinforcing. Having never seen him deal with this level of stress, remaining aware of what was at stake, perhaps making this overtly personal wasn’t the right answer. However, this was 004’s method: Bond made people want to assist using charisma and sexuality: honesty and warmth seemed to her better bets, ostensibly because that was just easier under pressure. Only now it appears has Q grasped this difference: there is a conscious shift in body language, normally detached curiosity aware and then surprised at what her words had meant.

‘That was a genuine compliment.’

‘Is this the moment when I remind you that I’m not 007 and there’s no need to alter the terms of our relationship?’

‘Your honesty was always refreshing in training, but I’d always considered it dangerous in the field because of the potential issues it might cause. However, hearing it now? That’s exactly what the scared, confused and frightened boy I now am wanted to hear.’

‘You do yourself a disservice, Q. You may be frightened but I guarantee once safe and secure, you’ll grasp what an adventure this has the potential to be.’

‘Is that your reasoning, 004?’

‘Every time I remember what I’ve become there’s a double take, disbelief at this opportunity I’ve been given and that must always be taken seriously. It’s amazing, yet humbling. Thank you for believing I was capable when there were moments I believed failure was inevitable.’

The words are doing their work, both energy and confidence in the young man’s stance. Then he sits back down, closing the distance between them for a reason. There is an admission coming, as the Quartermaster’s voice drops.

‘When I agreed to go dark, I was utterly cognisant of consequence. Your foresight, in that regard, has been remarkable: I wouldn’t have considered many items as essential equipment, would have questioned your need to walk in wet clothing until I thought through your reasoning. I have staggeringly misjudged your organisational acumen, and it chastens me greatly. Of all the people in the World I would want to be on the run with? I would pick you, in a breath, every single time. I won’t disappoint you, and I will make sure I’m always strong and determined. Of that, you have my word.’

A hand rests on Ronni’s leg, brief squeeze from now dirty hands before they’re both standing. Rucksacks are secured, the laptop grasped across Q’s chest, and 004 will keep them both moving until they can’t any longer. With what was pillaged from Venice, they can set up a decent camp somewhere, anywhere, and then her superior can sleep for as long as is required.


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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Eight

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Bond’s consciousness is fighting the battle with induced drunkenness and winning. He’s aware of what Christian had done, that it could have been so much worse had the man decided to get sexual, but he was long gone and his fiancée’s death would soon be sending shock waves through Spectre’s hierarchy. If a hangover and two lungs full of dirty water was all the indignity he suffered, that would be a small price against what 004 had now managed to achieve. He still can’t believe they’d pulled off his rescue, had partly reconciled that this could have been his final mission. The last thing remembered is her swimming downwards, ethereally beautiful, redeeming water sprite reaching to pull him from oblivion. Ronni had, in a small way, closed the cycle of regret he’d carried with him since he’d failed to save another’s life in the same place.

His wrist is vibrating, a moment to work out why. When she rescued him and kissed a grateful forehead, there was the foresight to leave comms. Q’s prototype smart watch is really rather brilliant, and now it is trying to talk to him. Felix is staring out of the evac chopper window, nurses intent on other tasks while they wait for permission to take off, so Bond can steal a glimpse at the device. Even inebriated, he registers the code word on the face and understands that she’s now alone, in charge of the most important person the Service possesses. Whether he likes it or not, they need more people like Q in active ranks, those that understand the future of encryption and hacking. Brute force and destruction have had their day. Somewhere, the truth is between both points, wrapped in a female form that now makes him begin to shake with its thought. Ronni has the most important package the Service has ever collected, and needs to protect it at any cost.

She is about to sacrifice two lives to keep MI6 in the game.

Felix is staring, trying to hold him down as he struggles to get up, because there is still time to find Veronica and protect before it is too late. The nurses are restraining too, almost strong enough to escape them all until the sedative is in his system, then there’s nothing to do but sleep.


‘Ground zero confirms package is delivered, we have green on all missions.’

MI6’s Ops Centre is at full stretch, multiple operations simultaneously in full swing. These people are the next generation, mission specialists in the field making a palpable difference in new and interesting ways. Having a 75 year old ex 00 paired with a man forty years her junior seemed fairly audacious on paper, but the combination of Grace with Acquisitions wunderkind Anton Wiltshire was only one of many revelations that had emerged. Moneypenny, LaCroix and all the others are in theatre, across two continents, and about to deliver a body blow to Spectre as revenge for damage done to their organisation. Tanner’s grateful for Q’s insights into everyone, that metrics and assessments have transformed the space he lives and works in over such a short space of time.

Left wrist unexpectedly vibrates: this means no good, especially at such a crucial juncture.

The man’s been practising the art of glancing casually for the time, when instead he can take in the messages Q is sending: when he sees the word it takes a second to make a connection. The code isn’t from the Quartermaster either but 004, particular use sending a chill through his soul.

VESPER.

She picked it as, in her words, this perfectly encapsulated the set of circumstances that would have to transpire to make her use it to begin with. Compromised and without alternative, Ronni needed to die. With the exception of 007, going dark wasn’t something any agent should need to do to begin with, but if Bond was unable to assist their escape? Q had even broached the possibility before leaving for Venice: with Beam’s information secured, travelling with it would be fraught with danger, especially with the bounty now placed on both their heads. It was probably best for everybody if they go to ground and are thought to have been lost. If Ronni knew they’d not get out of Venice without a fight, this would be the default response. Q would never consciously place himself in danger unless he was completely aware of what was at stake, and to agree to this meant the stakes were even higher than anticipated.

Tanner watches the room around him vanish to background noise, taking in the consequences one word set in motion. Everyone here would need to believe the fiction, without exception, or else the chances of decrypting Beam’s data would be lost. Despite the continued issues with extraction, Bond would not be safe at Como and would need to be treated there and then flown back to the UK immediately. Other 00 operatives would need to be directly and comprehensively briefed… but the bigger issue remains how 004 and Q would remove themselves from theatre. If Ronni plays to type, there would be at least nod to Bond in execution…

Fire suddenly consumes the video feed from Venice: Q’s ‘electrified’ area outside Spectre’s HQ is burning, blue flames from broken beer barrels causing fresh panic amongst the emergency services attempting to approach the building. As people run from this new threat, the waterside base of operations for Spectre unexpectedly erupts in a sudden and all-consuming fireball. Tanner stares with horror, knowing now what he has to do. The junior handlers already grasp something is terribly wrong, comms with Q having unexpectedly vanished with the explosion, and Rachel is desperately trying to re-establish connection. The Chief of Staff picks a spot to stare at outside the Ops Room, towards the ancient vending machine, remembering the time Ronni had consoled him there after the loss of her predecessor.

‘Tanner!’

Frasier is desperate, screaming with tears barely contained, bypassing protocols he no longer cares about, and Will briefly hates himself. Now he must deceive a woman who really doesn’t deserve the grief about to be inflicted on her, plus every other person in this room. What worries most is if Bond knows or not, if he is in on the fiction. This is the part of the job Tanner utterly detests, but is the most powerful weapon of all. Lying for your country has always come with consequences.

‘004 and Q have been compromised.’

M appears, standing opposite, staring ashen faced, as Will Tanner begins to cry on cue.


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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Seven

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The last of Beam’s data has been safely transposed to his own portable drive, and Q spends a moment to check the integrity of the information. At the same time his laptop’s more than 90% complete with the task of hacking Spectre’s own mainframe, and once that is done London will proceed with the retaliation plan he’d created and agreed first from a British Airways flight and then from a restaurant basement in Venice. It had been a snap decision, intentionally light on planning, but this at least proved the point that the man could work on instinct if required. At the sound of movement from behind him the Beretta is in his hand, only relaxing when he sees Ronni, soggy wreck of her previous immaculate self.

‘Is everything alright?’

‘All sorted, Bond was just out of his depth.’

She deadpans the one-liner this time with a skill that makes Q laugh, despite himself.

‘You can do this now without thinking, can’t you?’

‘No, I’ve just become incredibly adept at ignoring everything except the mission brief. Bond did a remarkable job at manipulating Maddy, cutting Beam out of the equation. We need to make sure that Christian’s overriding desire to save himself gets exploited as comprehensively as possible.’

He can’t help but stare, beauty unthinkingly bedraggled to complete the task, knowing she’s cried between 007 and here, and hand goes to her arm, because suddenly there’s the need to reassure.

‘Was he able to talk?’

‘No, so I left Felix with my watch: if we need to communicate he’s in the loop, because apart from you and Bond he remains the only person I’m trusting in this town.’

‘Considering how many dead we now know have resulted from this spot, that’s very sound indeed. I’m also beginning to suspect that all our operations in Northern Italy may have been compromised. Spectre are almost as thorough as you are, but not quite. You were right, 004, tonight we fly.’

He uses her own code phrase, final acquiescence to the plan they’d hatched before Felix had met them under the restaurant. Now hands intertwine briefly, shared strength as the pact between them is cemented. Without 007 capable to be her shadow, Q had agreed to do the job. It would mean a different set of issues for them both, but their dedication was already unshakeable. It might frighten him now, but in the end reward would far outweigh risk.

‘How long do we have?’

‘I’ll be into Spectre’s system in less than 10 minutes. Nobody as yet is aware of our presence, though that is likely to change as soon as we deliver the mail. You might want to consider a change of clothing.’

Q was aware of how audacious this plan remains: half a dozen hastily picked Spectre locations, the cream of remaining 00 agents and Field experts from Army and Air Force pulled together in less than eight hours, relying on him and the woman to his left who reeks of marine diesel and sweat. As she goes to change, he ignores what could yet go wrong, simply focussing on the things done best.


The packed briefing room at the Barracks goes silent, all eyes watching as M arrives at the desk that would normally be Q’s. Tanner stands off to one side, quietly impressed with everyone he sees: most were working on limited sleep and an excess of caffeine, yet all were immaculate. The new team that included Emmanuel and Elizabeth had lost their initial nervousness, now all quietly standing and watching as their boss took off his coat, handing it to the young Asian man who now acted as his PR. To his right was Rachel, looking unbelievable on only a handful of hours rest, her team from Acquisitions and Expedition with tablets already out, prepared to take notes if required.

Tanner remains pleased and proud to work for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, most particularly at moments like this. They stand at a crossroads: key Spectre locations in the UK and Northern Europe ready to be attacked and shut down. Q had provided their impetus, it is now up to this team to make that plan a reality.

M stands, surveying the room with increasing satisfaction, before he speaks.

‘When I was offered this job, the world was a very different place to the one we now inhabit. It is staggering to think how much has changed in such a short space of time, but undoubtedly this future remains one not only worth fighting for, but that everyone in this room has a chance of improving. Each and every one of you brings a unique perspective to the landscape we all now travel together, and I realise just how narrow-minded my predecessors have been in thinking that by excluding certain elements, we’d somehow survive better in the modern world. Nothing is further from the truth. It is only by inclusion that we can become stronger.

The 00 Section has, for a long time, been the dinosaur in the room. With Veronica Flemmings and Eve Moneypenny’s promotions, Q’s acceptance of a field role and his efforts to diversify Q Section overall, the evolution of many other departments has become not just a priority, but an expectation. Metrics and organisation have their place, but not at the expense of free thinking and spontaneity. Q may not be here in body, but that man’s drive, passion and enthusiasm for the job regardless of the dangers lives in every single one of us, myself included. We have the chance to hit back at Spectre, but to begin a symptematic process of eradication and redefinition that will finally turn the tide in this new conflict, and return both sanctity and belief to thousands of men and women who’s fight for freedom is a daily struggle worldwide.

I don’t need to tell you to do your best, because everyone here already is. You make me proud, and long may this continue. To your stations, and let luck no longer be a factor in anything we do.’

As the room breaks into spontaneous applause, M knows that the advantage has moved decisively into London’s hands.


Showered and changed, Ronni still can’t remove the taste of Bond from her mouth, and knows why. They’re partners now, truly indivisible, doesn’t want it any other way. He’ll never be distraction, simply strength that will be needed in the days that follow, weeks to come. Now the path is set? Nothing remains but the execution of a plan that, if she and Q do it right, really does give her superiors all the chips to gamble with as they please.

The report that fills the screen in the security room is damning: Q and her are marked as priority targets for immediate execution by any and all Spectre agents. Capturing them alive also rewarded a million US dollars or equivalent. The bounty is ridiculous, but considering the damage the pair of them have caused to Spectre’s infrastructure since their arrival, it seems both appropriate and acceptable. The automated software suite sends the screen above her back to London, as she notes with interest that Christian’s on his way to Geneva, still blissfully unaware of their efforts. However, it would not be long before the truth reached Spectre’s new defacto leader with authorities already on the scene.

It is time to go to the basement, down narrow steps to the crude jail cell, to find Gregory Beam virtually pressed to the bars waiting for redemption. At her arrival he’s clearly keen to have hands untied, gag removed, but Ronni’s glad of the silence and doesn’t have time for conversation. The only thing needed now is for this man to be out of the equation, with a salutatory warning over both his arrogance and its consequences.

‘Mr Beam, considering the number of deaths you have caused today I should shoot you in the head. However, as this would be a criminal waste of ammunition, I would suggest you start running until you hit civilisation and don’t look back.’

She leads him up the stairs and to a side door, watching as the man bolts away into the Venetian night. As soon as their present to Spectre’s worldwide intelligence mainframe was delivered the power would be lost, their position vulnerable, and that was entirely unacceptable. Before then there was a lot to pack, plus more to consider.

Planning ahead also afforded enough time to send a message to the two people who mattered most.


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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Six

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Twenty six seconds into heart massage comes a spasm, water spurting from lungs mixed with vomit and the all-pervading stench of medical alcohol: Bond’s alive, gasping air and looking around in terror. Ronni falls back, shoulders hitting solid stone, staring as he readjusts; another one of nine lives summarily consumed. There’ll be an insistence Felix travels back to Como with him because that remains a safe haven, and this time James can get better without falling in love with anyone. Only now does it register: he’s staring, fully conscious and wide-eyed, yet completely incapable of speech. Bond’s expecting a comeback from the dead, and all Ronni can be grateful for is survival.

‘You’re welcome.’

007’s trying to move; shifting body, staring with what Ronni’s fairly confident is amazement. His tears are a surprise before there’s retching again: blood with the vomit prompts the immediate need to move him to the Recovery position. If this wasn’t SPECTRE there’d be another acronym to deal with, different bunch of random nutters with no discernible agenda except chaos. You never eliminated bad guys, they just evolved into something more insidious and the only conclusive manner of eradicating evil was with the good in the hearts of people like 007, because that’s what he was, a fucking hero.

Ronni might often disagree with methods, but the heart’s purity she just restarted was without question. James cared about what was right, stopping bad from becoming the norm, and that alone was worth saving. A shaking hand reaches out, slipping around hers: pulling them together yet conscious of crowding as a pulse is taken. He’s built like an ox, resting heart rate almost stupidly unaffected by the fact he just died. Only now does the Spectre chopper register, climbing above the water, that Christian’s escape is only being allowed because that way MI6 has time to destroy everything he stands for in front of the world.

There’s movement behind her eyeline: Leiter’s arrived, dropping down the set of stairs that lead back up to the main quayside. Because they’ve forced Swann into retreat, it is absolutely the moment to press an advantage.

‘Q has the data, everything’s set, leave Jim with me.’

Bond is clearly capable of understanding Leiter’s presence but not intent, and as 007 remains her partner, Ronni knows this plan needs explanation. Leaning into a shaking body, her own shudders in response, amazement that instinct pushes to lay down and protect until he recovers. Yet again, time has run out. All that is left now is the mission, compulsion to complete this game-changing objective.

‘You’re never going to believe this, but I was the one just passing. I need to be somewhere else so that we can wipe these guys off the map for good. I’ll leave you with Felix: I promise to find you when I’m done.’

Bond understands, despite being incapable of response, nodding assent. Felix stares with what only now registers is awe: truly understanding she means business, very much in charge of the fight back. Spectre had been given notice, already condemned to destruction in the most damning way possible, and if anyone got in the way? She would destroy them, because now was summarily grasped the true value of revenge. It was no use to you on the back foot: the only way forward was to own the concept from first breath until your last.

‘You said you wanted to get Swann…’

‘I must be prepared to go all the way. Because they’re not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.’

She can’t help herself, knowing how they both loved quoting classics. Leiter stares at the mess her body undoubtedly resembles with smile already forming, nodding at the use of the classic movie scene with approval.

‘They pull a knife… ‘

‘- you pull a gun.’

‘He sends one of yours to the hospital… ‘

‘- you send one of his to the morgue.’

Their hug is instant and solid, allowing opportunity to pass him the smartwatch, ensuring both will remain in the loop. As Felix pulls away his smile is the widest she’s ever seen: 004 really hopes in future to watch movies and drink beer with this guy whilst concluding that real life is not nearly as dramatic as the big screen would have you believe. In many ways, this will be the more solid relationship than with Charlie, because Ronni has so much more in common with Leiter than first realised.

‘You got this, Ron. Go make Spectre bleed.’

Leaving Bond is almost impossible, however; there has to be closure of sorts. Planting a kiss to his forehead with all the emotion within, willing into an addled brain to stay safe until the medical team arrived, they are both again forced to work alone. Above come shrill sirens, emergency services arriving in response to their actions and if Ronni didn’t know already it is the cue to complete this mission. The taste of blood in won’t vanish as she sprints up the canal wall stairs, two at a time, trying to erase memory of James as a wreck, literally dead in the water.

Now she understands how 007 must have felt when Vesper died.


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